To coincide with the Chinese New Year, Gow Langsford Gallery is exhibiting, for the first time, Contemporary Artists from China. "This is part of our international programme," explains gallery co-director Gary Langsford, who has noticed worldwide interest in Chinese art grow over the past decade.
"I've seen works go from $25,000 to $1 million in five years. It's a tremendous growth market and we want to offer our collectors the same opportunities as overseas collectors."
The exhibition is a broad overview - including painting, photography, sculpture and performance - rather than a thematically based show, but it reflects China's recent socio-political changes in its homage to Western visual art influences: high renaissance, expressionism and pop art.
But overall, the tone is slightly sinister, as if something is not quite right. The works imply post-Tiananmen Square disillusionment, cynicism and even condemnation. For example, Cui Guotai's two large acrylic paintings of an industrial rooftop and a factory, under bland oppressive skies, are bleak to say the least.
Blood seems to be dripping from the external staircase in one of them and the buildings look more like slaughterhouses than testaments to the superpower's economic boom.
Feng Zhengjie's pop art-style woman, China 2005 no 21, is spookily cock-eyed, and Sheng Qi's street scenes are peopled only by the ubiquitous Mao banner, overlaid with graffiti-like scrawl in what appears to be an effort to rewrite or at least engage with the country's long domination by one figure.
Li Luming's The Wedding deals with similar subject matter, although his representation is of the lambs to the slaughter, a blurred portrait of the hopeful couple, dressed in standard-issue Maoist uniform, the bride holding the mandatory little red book. Only the pink roses - one each for the bride and groom - distinguish the pair as anything other than sacrificial soldiers in the great march forward.
According to his biography, Luming is heavily influenced by the German artist Gerhard Richter, whose work is also concerned with the brutalising of his country by dangerous leadership and ideology. Luming renders his paintings in a style similar to Richter's photo-based series.
Luming is a big name in China and has exhibited prolifically throughout Asia, Europe and the United States. The Wedding is lifesize (2m x 1.5m) and technically ambitious - a mark of what Langsford identifies as the key characteristic of contemporary Chinese art.
"Unlike Western artists, the Chinese, almost without exception, are traditionally trained. They are highly skilled drawers and painters, and no matter how big they get they seem to continue to make their own work.
"Whereas the Western tradition has the studio within which the artist presides over the realisation of an idea, in China the process remains very much hands-on for the artist."
The only artist in the show to be trained outside China is Auckland MIT graduate Frank Fu. In his thrice-daily performance piece, Fu ritually kneels on a red prayer mat outside the gallery's main window and prays for one hour to the words "In Memory of Contemporary Art" printed above a yellow-gold electric candle.
Fu stays remarkably still throughout his prayer, unaffected by the traffic and roadwork noise and pedestrians' reactions. In his white synthetic suit and concentrated pose, Fu cuts quite a figure and may appear familiar to those who have seen this self-described "interventionist" practising his art elsewhere.
Influenced by Zen teachings about the potency of direct action and direct experience, Fu's methodology is grounded in the "here and now" of everyday life.
He is interested in "equalities and the freedom for everybody to talk", and at the Sydney Biennale last year, he interrupted an inaugural speech by standing on a stool, ringing a bell and reading from Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
He has also been known to hand out 300 ping-pong balls to passers-by, set up rogue radio stations, stage a 12-hour public life and, posing as a lift attendant, coerce unsuspecting (and remarkably obliging) passengers to bounce up and down on a pillow in time with the lift's motion.
"We need something new and fresh in our lives," Fu enthuses, "something so we reconsider our daily lives and surroundings." Much younger than the other artists in the show, Fu shares a commitment to change and outspokenness, which in the context of historical China comes across as tentative and daring, as well as timely.
What: Contemporary Artists from China
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery to March 3